Knowledge about diabetes can help with prevention and understanding

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way a human body uses energy from food. Normally, carbohydrates are digested as glucose, or sugar, when food is eaten. Human cells need glucose for energy.

Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, acts as a key to open cells and allow glucose to enter the cells. When this happens, glucose is being moved out of the blood and into the cells, which lowers blood sugar levels.

"In someone with diabetes, glucose builds up in the blood because it is unable to enter the cells, leading to high blood sugar. This is caused by either a lack of insulin or the insulin does not work the way it should," said Christeena Haynes, nutrition and health education specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, unusual thirst, excessive hunger, unusual weight loss, extreme fatigue, numbness in hands and feet, and frequent infections.

Two types

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas cannot make any insulin so one must take insulin. It is typically diagnosed during childhood and only accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diabetes cases.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. With type 2, insulin cannot properly unlock the cells to allow glucose to enter (insulin resistance) or the body does not produce enough insulin. Treatment may include taking diabetes medication or insulin.

Pre-diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Most people will have prediabetes before they develop type 2 diabetes.

Delay or prevention

Pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented or delayed by making the following diet and lifestyle changes:

* Eating a healthier diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy.

* Being physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

* Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising and eating right. Studies have shown that losing even 5 to 7 percent of body weight prevents or delays diabetes by almost 60 percent if you are overweight.

* Stop smoking.

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